It was on an unsealed stretch of the Burke and Wills track that the metaphorical wheels came off.
“This can’t possibly be right,” I frowned at my wife as our car jolted along the road with no other soul in sight.
“We’re coming from Sydney to the biggest inland city in Victoria - and this is the quickest way? Is there a silly buggers setting you’ve pressed?”
There was a short pause from the passenger seat – almost certainly as my wife contemplated divorce – before she said gleefully. “Look! It’s exactly the same on your phone. This is the right way, I told you so.”
And so it was, right in front of me, the bold blue route markings on both our screens assuring us that we were indeed on the fast track from New South Wales to Ballarat. Even if it was the path used by Australia’s two most intrepid explorers centuries ago, and still didn’t have the new-fangled convenience of tarmac.
And so we bumped on, the unsealed road a mercifully short stretch. Eventually we wound our way to Daylesford, the Midland Highway then home – considerably later than we expected – achieving the double-triumph of keeping both marriage and car intact.
Were we alone in being bamboozled by Google’s directions? Later that week, we were waiting for my parents driving down from Sydney, when my phone rang. “We’re lost,” mum said in a strained voice. “She started telling us to go down the Burke and Wills track, so we didn’t think that was right and turned back.”
“You will have a cold beer ready, won’t you dear?”.
Since then the Burke and Wills track has fallen off the suggested route. Perhaps Google has already learned from two hopelessly lost vehicles either crawling hesitantly forward, or reversing out. Or perhaps someone has complained since. (A Google spokesperson highlighted the “Report a Problem” tool at the bottom right corner of the map, which we did not use).
But the fastest route to Ballarat from Albury is still shown as the same zig-zagging way, twisting and turning via Toobarak (six minutes faster than the Hume down to the M80/ M8 according to Google when I checked this morning).
As one local put it, “Google thinks you can do the whole thing at 80(km/hr) but there’s no just way.”
Another Ballarat old hand reckons the time saved by going down to the M8 on Melbourne’s outskirts and out again is at least 20 minutes.
The ironic thing is we would do the same way again if time permitted. The area around Emu Flat and on the Burke and Wills track was the most astonishing landscape we saw in our travels
Google meanwhile points out that its data comes from different places, including third-party providers, public sources, and user contributions. It says “there may be occasional inaccuracies that could arise from any of those sources,” but that overall it “provides a very comprehensive and up-to-date map experience.”
The ironic thing is we would do the same way again if time allowed. The area around Emu Flat and on the Burke and Wills track was the most astonishing landscape we saw in our travels.
There were ranges rolling into the distance, and paddocks with boulders flung randomly by great geological shifts many aeons ago. This was raw, beautiful pastoral land under a big Australian sky with hardly anyone about – easily the most striking section of the entire road trip.
Perhaps a silly buggers setting might just work.